This latest short comic from Gareth Brookes is a different little thing – produced using images made with lino-cut block printing and embroidery and text added directly onto the material by pen. And the whole thing is printed using a Risograph, giving the whole thing an unusual, hand-made, boutique-ish feel.
Just like some of the earliest things I saw from him, The Black Project sits somewhere in the murky border between comics and illustration. There are no panels, very few thought bubbles, the story is presented sequentially through text pages and illustrated pages. Comics or illustrated prose? The correct answer really is “does it matter”?
It’s a tale about a young lad called Richard, who has a hobby, something he calls “The Black Project”. Everything starts starts pretty normally, a love letter from a hormonal teenage boy….
“She was the first one I had any real feelings for”
“She was my first big project, the first one where I felt like I knew what I was aiming for. I spent a lot of money on her and a lot of time planning things out.”
“Of course I didn’t want my mum and dad to know about Laura. They wouldn’t have understood, they would have said I was too young to be doing things like this. But I knew that me and Laura were right for each other……”
Okay, maybe not pretty normal, maybe normal with a hint of strange, a touch of obsessive in the voice. But really, a boy trying to keep a girlfriend from mum and dad, wanting to buy her things and thinking about the future? That’s just being a teenager surely?
But then, page 4 , and it all gets downright bizarre, and a little disturbed as we get to meet Laura:
“Her legs were made out of tights that I stuffed with old socks and other rags, her body was a T-shirt that I stuffed a pillow inside. I stole one of my mum’s bras and put two grapefruit inside to make Laura’s breasts……”
After that it gets stranger, way more obsessive and full of a twisted and dark sexuality. Richard never actually does anything necessarily wrong, but it’s written in such a tone as to make his simple descriptions ominous and threatening. As he talks of what he’s making, how he hides it from sight, how he eventually takes her apart as the risk of discovery becomes to much, Richard’s words portray a boy deep in a fantasy world, where his behaviour seems all the more disturbing for his straight forward reportage of the creation process.
Laura goes away, but Richard soon replaces her with Charlotte, an improved model. The detail and obsessional planning Richard puts in here just gets more and more complicated – we start imagining a psychopath in training constructing a Bride of Frankenstein from cardboard boxes and polystyrene.
This is just the first episode of the comic Brookes calls a “suburban psychosexual satire” and it’s interesting, hitting the dark tone just right and allowing the flat, montone delivery of Richard’s descriptions to paint a picture of a boy with problems. But in going over the top with his descriptive prose, Brookes also manages to inject a bizarre sense of levity and humour into the story, compounded by the events following Charlotte’s discovery and the old fashioned comedy of errors that that entails.
Brookes’ art here is equally bizarre, the textured nature of his originals give the pages a strange effect, mottled and indistint at times, but it’s not something that detracts from the enthralling nature of the story. Indeed, it rather adds to the effect of it all being some document of Richard’s own making. Pages of intricate text and isolated images are intercut by big open pages with a loose line and half finished vistas – such as the page of Granddad’s garden shed above. It’s not the most cultured of art, but there’s a simplicity here, especially in those open pages, that makes it a rather attractive, certainly interesting comic.
The Black Project #1 is merely the start of Richard’s adventures, although with the ending to this issue, I’m worried what dark places Brookes may take us (and Richard) to next. The Black Project #1 is available from Gareth Brookes’ website.